The feeling of being a phoney in one’s own professional role is not uncommon. It has been suggested that around 70% of people (Sakulku and Alexander, 2011) will experience a dull sense of impending doom ahead of an imagined inevitable discovery that they are pretending to be competent or that in reality a terrible mistake has been made about their elevation to a certain role, project or job.
However, the impostor phenomenon (Clance and Imes, 1978), whilst not exclusively experienced by women, conflates already challenging workplace circumstances with widely known barriers to career advancement and discrepancies in recognition and reward (WEF, 2017). The intersectionality of a genuine belief of inadequacy in the face of contrary evidence and embedded, often implicit, discriminatory workplace practices creates a compelling topic for examination, challenge and response. This is particularly so in regard to women moving through their careers as they mature in age, as a contributor to an organisation’s value proposition and as a member of the workforce.
While the impostor phenomenon has been the topic of disparate research across various segments of the community (e.g. students, academics, managers, men and women) (Clance and Imes, 1978; Cowman and Ferrari, 2002; Gibson-Beverly and Schwartz, 2008; Langford and Clance, 1993; McDowell, Boyd and Bowler, 2007; Neureiter and Traut-Mattausch, 2016), the broader examination of the construct as a compounding factor to be considered in regard to workplace structures, administrative processes and human resources development (in a broad sense) has been less of a point of interest. This chapter aims to identify what the impostor phenomenon is and how it may be a confounding factor in regard to a raft of workplace barriers to women as they mature into their careers and through life.